This month marks the 17th anniversary since the founding of what is now TERIS. On June 5, 1996 company founder and CEO Stefan Wikstrom took the plunge into entrepreneurship with the founding of what was then “American Legal Corporation” (or ALC). The company later morphed into ALC Legal Technology before successfully rebranding itself as TERIS in January, 2009.
The legal industry has dramatically changed in the nearly two decades since Stefan served his first client and TERIS has continued to grow and evolve with the changes over time. We sat down to talk to Stefan to get some thoughts about the journey:
- How did you first get into the litigation support industry?
Luck brought me into the industry – my first job out of college was with a company that provided similar services in the legal industry – I had no idea the legal services space was as big as it is and the experience really opened my eyes to the industry (and potential). After working in it for a few years I felt that I could provide clients a better experience with a much higher level of service and performance…so I started my own company.
Over the years I’ve been approached many times by groups wanting to buy my business. Of course back then I thought I would have been out of the industry by now. Looking back, I’m very glad I didn’t sell the business because of the exciting changes and growth we’ve experienced – especially the past 10 years. There have been so many changes in technology and these changes are consistently changing the dynamics within our organization and service offerings.
- What has surprised you most about working with (TERIS or litigation support)?
How fast we grew – it really took off. Also how intense and unpredictable this industry is. You hardly ever know what you’re going to get. It can be very slow one day and then completely buried the next day. There really is no way to totally plan/predict because this industry is so reactive. We can only be so proactive in our sales efforts, that’s why marketing is so important (to stay top of mind with clients for the times when projects do come up).
- What do you wish everyone knew about TERIS?
How talented and large our professional services team is. We have very strong technology team with a ton of bench strength. We have more than a dozen JDs and a tremendous number of professionals with legal software certifications. Also, how successful our managed service program has been in terms of reducing costs – and increasing efficiency – for large corporate clients.
- What do you find most challenging about this industry?
The fact that technology changes so fast – being a technology service provider we need to stay on top of the latest technologies in a rapidly changing environment to ensure we are constantly providing our clients with the best service in the industry.
- Who are your typical clients?
Early on it was almost exclusively attorneys and paralegals within law firms. Within the past 10 years this has changed and now a large part of our clientele are large corporations – both their legal teams and other divisions within the company. I think a lot of people would be surprised to learn how much work we’re now doing for large corporations. When I started the company I always envisioned working with corporations but law firms were my direct experience/skill set so I targeted them first. But I always had an eye on corporations and knew it would build over time.
- What has been the scariest part of managing the business?
Probably the scariest step for me and for the company was when we decided to rebrand the company (in 2008). I wasn’t really sure how clients and the industry would react but we felt like it was important to project the kind of company we had evolved into – which was a leading technology specialist. In hindsight it went great – it couldn’t have gone any better and helped position us for where we are now.
- What would you say are some of your strongest beliefs about why TERIS has been so successful for 17 years?
Integrity. This is the key value we look for and reinforce in our team. This commitment has helped (and continues to help) us build strong long-term relationships with our clients (who we very much appreciate) and are the corner stone to our success.
- What might someone be surprised to know about you?
I competed in college athletics and used this competitive drive to build our business. Also, many people probably don’t know I was born and raised in Stockholm Sweden. [Editor’s note: most people also probably don’t realize that Stefan is a former Pac-10 javelin record-holder for the Washington State Cougars].
- What’s your first memory of (something related to the business)?
When I first started the company I sold during the day and did the production work myself at night. One night I was having dinner with my wife and at 7:30 the phone rang with a call from a client for an urgent project. It needed to be turned around and completed by the next morning. I cut the date short, went straight to the facility and sent it to the client the next morning (I barely slept). The entire first year I pulled double duty (sales and production). Initially I hired one employee to help but there were often bigger projects that needed both of us.
- Any final thoughts?
Building TERIS over the years has been a real privilege and a great ride so far. Our success over the years is directly attributed to the quality of our employees and leadership team. I’m very excited to see how we’ll continue to evolve and change as we celebrate future anniversaries.